Mayors’ ‘competition’ is win-win for environment

There is no denying the friendly competition between Melbourne Beach Mayor James Simmons and Indialantic Beach Mayor David Berkman to preserve and protect the environment within their respective towns.

The issue at hand is the overuse and improper disposal of plastic products such as straws, cups and bags. With two solutions – the voluntary removal of all plastic straws, and the termination of plastic bags – an end to the issue could be near.

In both towns, it is clear that plastic materials that are being used and left on the beaches are not only detrimental to marine wildlife, but are also ruining the once-pristine scenery.

According to Simmons, “plastics in general just disintegrate into a slurry, but they never actually go away.”

Simmons is looking to reduce the impact plastics have on the beaches of Melbourne.

He has been working closely with the Surfrider Foundation and with numerous Melbourne merchants on several strategies, including not offering plastic straws, bags and other environmentally-hazardous materials.

The effort likely will encounter obstacles, such as convincing some restaurant owners who feel their customers will not want to give them their business because they are being denied something so simple as a straw. Indeed, at its core, the movement toward change seems to be lacking the attention and education that it needs for the public. “We are trying to win hearts and minds first,” says Simmons.

Similarly, Indialantic’s Berkman is working on a solution to the growing problem.

He is looking to introduce a resolution next month that will ask businesses and residents to stop using plastic straws unless specifically requested by customers.

This resolution will also detail the benefits that discontinuing plastic straw use will provide for marine wildlife in the ocean as well as the Indian River Lagoon. Just last week Berkman visited a local oceanfront CVS asking if they would be willing to switch to paper bags as opposed to plastic. According to Berkman, “there is also one oceanfront store in Miami that does not use plastic bags anymore and they switched to paper.”

With this in mind, Berkman is hoping to get this local CVS to be the start of more stores taking these steps. Berkman is also working closely with the Surfrider Foundation to get local businesses and residents on board with the resolution.

Shannon Schneyder, vice chair of the Sebastian Inlet Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and program director of Ocean Friendly Restaurants, has been working with both mayors since January. Schneyder is hoping that residents will eventually be more knowledgeable on the subject and accept the potential changes implemented by Simmons and Berkman.

Cutting out single-use plastics is the main goal for now with the two resolutions.

Another effort Simmons and Berkman recall is the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program. This program is mostly aimed at stopping plastic at the source. Long Doggers restaurant in Indialantic, for instance, only gives out plastic straws upon request. This is the type of small step toward monumental change.

According to Schneyder, “I think the consumers, especially all of us who live here on the beachside, really care about the ocean and want to see things like this happen. So I think that the movement is definitely picking up speed.”

Article by: Ali Heyer, Correspondent

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